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Blog Archive: January 2021

A Little Death...
There's a whole lot of sub-plots going on in this issue, with the main one featuring The Wasp getting into trouble as she escapes from Magneto, but also Doom summoning Klaw, Galactus building his giant machine, ructions within the X-Men, Colossus having girl trouble, and the Avengers bickering amongst themselves. It's neither better nor worse than the rest of this series so far, although some of the dialogue from Klaw does stand out as particularly awful.

Last time we were left with one of Jim Shooter's bizarrely dull cliffhangers - Doom sees something mildly interesting! - but before we get to the payoff to that we have to follow The Wasp as she crashes her escape craft, sees some Large Bees and finally bumps into The Lizard. Once that's all done with we finally get to see what Doom's interest was piqued by in the previous issue - some vibrations! Whoo! Vibrations! That was worth waiting a month for! Luckily for everybody Doom has found a machine that will do whatever you want it to (in which case surely he could use it to get rid of Galactus and all the other superheroes - or is that me being a Super-villain Super-genius again?) and uses it to reconstitute the energy causing the vibrations. It turns out to be Klaw, the (as Doom helpfully explains) "Master Of Sound". Klaw is traumatised from being converted into energy for so long, and this manifests by him repeating words or parts of words over and over again in a manner that becomes excruciating very quickly and does not let up for the rest of the series. "Crush, rush rush rush rush" he says, "Power, ow-er, owe-er, owe-er" and so on on on. Doctor Doom, quite understandably, decides that Klaw would be most useful at a distance, preferably out of hearing range, and sends him off to give orders to the other villains. We then get a single panel of Galactus carrying on with his building, before we return to The Wasp, making friends with The Lizard. It's then yet another change of scene as we discover Professor X using his powers to see what's going on around Battleworld, and then to telepathically boss the X-Men around. They all leap into action at his orders, except for Storm who is supposed to be the current team leader and thus objects to him telling them what to do. They have an argument about it during which Storm is angry and Professor X is, to use the correct psychological terminology, a bit of dick. As I've said before, Jim Shooter seems to think that constantly having characters argue with each other counts as characterisation, but when they do it like this without any charm or much justification it becomes grating. Not as grating -ating -ating -ating as the way Klaw talks, of course, but still not much fun.

Back in the alien village we drop by to find Colossus tormented by his feelings for Zsaji, when he should be thinking about his underage girlfriend back home, and then there's more bickering from the Avengers. The Hulk makes an excellent point here - the Avengers spend pages and pages chatting but doing nothing very interesting at all. Hawkeye even has time for some whittling! There's a bit more action when Cyclops, Rogue and Wolverine, following Professor X's orders, bump into some supervillains and have a pointless fight which they all walk away from. Cyclops works out that the villains were there trying to ignite a volcano and decides that, actually, this is a really good idea and so zaps it with his eye blasts which cause the whole range to start erupting. Is it me, or is this complete nonsense? We then flip over to The Wasp, who is killed by a laser blast from The Wrecker and then scooped up into some sort of bulldozer thing by the baddies who drive back to base with her body. The death happens in a single panel, out of the blue, and the whole episode is done in the most pedestrian way possible - I really do not want to be That Guy, but surely the murder of A Founding Avenger in a Big Event Comic deserves more than a single panel? The comic spends more time discussing how to pick up her body from the swamp than it does with the actual death! The whole comic, not to put too fine a point on it, absolutely terrible from start to finish, but happily there's only one page left, which features as the climax to the whole story The Avengers looking at Galactus' ship and, THRILLINGLY, deciding to wait around a bit longer. SPOILERS: the shadowy figure listening to their extremely dull conversation will turn out to be neither dark nor menacing, as we'll find out next time!

posted 27/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Battle Of Four Armies!
The big cliffhanger last time was Galactus twitching a bit, but this time we find out what was really going on - he was summoning his spaceship to Battleworld! OK, that is a bit more dramatic than I thought! This spooks everybody, especially the alien healer girl who Johnny Storm has latched himself onto. He tries to comfort her, but she drags him off to "her place" which he interprets as her wanting to shag him, basically. She gets a bottle out, which he of course assumes is her fixing them a pre-shag drinky, but when it turns out to be some sort of bong he is cool with that too. Shooter seems to have decided that Johnny Storm's entire character boils down to "an absolute dick" and, to be fair to him, he does carry this on consistently throughout the series. Sadly for Johnny's libido this isn't foreplay, but rather a drug which allows them to share minds (man) and, happily for new readers, it enables her to get a clearly labelled guide to the major characters in the story. There's also a recap of the story so far, after which Johny and the girl - who introduces herself as "Zsaji" - finally get down to some snogging. Jim Shooter really likes the idea of getting some "romance" into the series, and this carries on in an even more icky style as we find Colossus thinking about Kitty Pryde, his under-age girlfriend back home who he had "big plans" for "a few years from now, when you are old enough." Before that can get any worse he is called to meet Magneto and Professor X so they can look at Galactus's big ship, and then we nip over to the villains to see their reaction to it. Then, at last, we go inside the Doombase to find Doom sitting inside what looks very like his old command centre back home. The Enchantress turns up and offers Doom an alliance, promising to fix his face with magic if he agrees. Doom is tempted, but realises that this will come at a price, so refuses. She doesn't take this well, and teleports off in a huff, calling Doom a "madman" as she departs. Doom is often called this, despite the fact that he generally acts very sensibly (if you take into account the fact that he thinks he knows better than anyone else and wants to rule the world), and here it leads him into a thoughtful moment. All right, I said he wasn't mad, but that doesn't make any sense at all!

We then switch back to the superheroes, who are trying and failing to get Galactus' attention. Eventually Magneto and Professor X manage to do so by redirecting the former's "latent mental powers" (eh?), causing Galactus to send down a futuristic robot to stop everyone bothering him. I say "futuristic" of course, because it looks like it comes from the 1990s! They manage to defeat the robot, but there's no time to catch their breath as Doom sends in his army for yet another big fight which, as ever, he is watching from afar via video link. The X-Men turn up and join in, leading to a Big Fight so Big that even Galactus has to notice, and Doom uses that distraction to fly into his spaceship at "tachyon speed", whatever that means. Colossus gets captured by the villians and so Cyclops zaps them with his eye blasts. They retreat, but Professor X orders the X-men back to the ship before they can collect Colossus. As far as I can tell there is absolutely no need for this at all, except to generate conflict within the team and for Colossus to end up with the main body of superheroes in the alien village, where he can be healed by Zsaji, to whom he is immediately attracted. The issue finally comes go a halt with Doctor Doom inside Galactus' ship, where he wanders about monologuing to himself about how big it is, but how he will find an "answer" somewhere thsat will enable him to beat Galactus and then The Beyonder. It's a plan that (SPOILERS!) he will get quite far with, but that's all for another time. For now we are left with another low-key cliffhanger, very similar to the last time, as Doom... sees something! Whatever could it be? I have absolutely no idea, but hopefully we'll find out next time!

posted 22/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Situation: Hopeless!
Before we get going on this issue proper, I just wanted to note how odd the lettering is on the cover. Like the previous issue, it looks like they couldn't get an actual letterer to put proper comics text in, so pasted it in using Letraset or something. I wonder if that's what happened? The first issue had a traditional comics lettering chunk of text, the second had none at all, and then from then on it tends to be this very unsatisfactory slab of text. I get the feeling a lot of "Secret Wars" was done in a rush, so maybe that was the case here too, or perhaps it was Jim Shooter on his never ending mission to make everything as clear as possible to new readers?

It's a shame as the cover is rather nice - indeed, the art itself is pretty good throughout, with Bob Layton taking over from Michael Zeck for a couple of issues. The writing, however, remains bloody awful!

It starts with a bang - or rather a "BUH-WHU-WHOOM!" as we see the superheroes' base exploding after the attack by the villains last time. Doom is in charge as his group search through the wreckage looking for bodies, but the heroes seem to have escaped. Doom doesn't seem to be too bothered. He's right not to worry - Doctor Octopus spots the heroes escaping, so Titania chucks a building at them. Molecule Man - in an apparent attempt to impress Volcana - responds by dropping a Mountain on top of them too. This is all good fun, but the jolly superhero craziness is rather spoilt by the horrible characterisations, notably the "romance" between Volcana and Molecule Man which, as i said last time, reads like it was written by a particularly drippy thirteen year old. Meanwhile, "half a world away", Thor and Enchantress are having a similarly stilted conversation, but luckily for those of us who hate soppy kissing (yuck!) they are interrupted by an earthquake resulting from the mountain tossing on the other side of the planet, and return to find out what's going on. This leads to a Big Fight between Thor and the villains, which ends with Doom commanding Ultron to disintegrate the Thunder God. Fear not, true believers, we very quickly get a shot of Thor hiding behind a boulder, so we know he's OK. Phew!

There's then a lengthy section where the X-Men sit around thinking about stuff. It's all tremendously boring and is absolutely PACKED with words. We then go over to Magneto's base, where we find him using his mighty powers to create a metal comb for the Wasp, who is chatting to him about the fact that there are no toilets in his base. Combs and toilets - this is what The Kids want!

The X-Men arrive and there's loads and loads of talking, during which Magneto suggests trying to kill the super-villains and thus win the contest, so that they can then go back to Earth and create "a golden age... in which men and mutants live together in peace." This isn't necessarily the nicest way to deal with the problem, but it does seem like a bit of an over-reaction when The Wasp calls him "the most evil scum since Hitler." Really, The Wasp? I think that's going a bit too far, especially when he's just made you a nice new comb. Or maybe she's feeling stressed because she really needs the loo?

This causes things to kick off, with the X-Men trying to stop the Wasp from escaping. I'm not sure why they do this - does it mean they agree with Magneto's idea or not? The Wasp gets away because Professor X refuses to use his mental powers to stop her, even though he did something very sinilar to Spider-man last time, erasing his memory. Charles feels very bad about this, and compares himself to Hitler! Had Jim Shooter seen a telly programme about Hitler or something, and thought it was a good idea to use him as a comparison point for Not Being Very Nice? It all feels very dodgy, but thankfully that's the end of the X-Men for this time, with the rest of the issue consisting of the superheroes escaping from beneath the mountain. Basically, the Hulk holds up a small section of space long enough for Mr Fantastic to put together some "circuit relays" from the other heroes' costumes and gadgets which enables the Human Torch and Captain Marvel to channel their powers into Iron Man's suit so he can blow up the mountain. Again, it's a neat solution in a good old superhero style, only spoilt by the tremendous amount of talking that goes on throughout as everyone constantly explains everything to each everybody else. Suffice to say they get out all right and then head over to a nearby village, where there'll be more shenanigans next time. All that remains is for Ben Grimm to suddenly turn back into the Thing and then for Galactus to... um... move a bit. As you may have gathered, I really don't like this comic but I do quite like this incredibly low-key ending. Oh no! He twitched! Will this be followed by some cosmic shuffling, or possibly even a galactic sniffle? Join us next time to find out!

posted 20/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Tempest Without, Crisis Within!
All right then, we've put it off long enough, so now it's time to get properly stuck into some more of "Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars". It's a series which I read when it first came out and thought was utterly rubbish, but has time changed my mind? Is it in fact a misunderstood work, possibly playing with tropes of the superhero genre and bringing them to a wider audience via early stirrings of the kind of transmedia expertise that would make Marvel a global cultural player?

No. It's utterly rubbish.

It's a shame it's so crappy because it does feature a lot of Doctor Doom, especially later on in the series, but in this issue he doesn't even turn up until halfway through. Before then there's a lengthy section with Magneto and The Wasp stuck inside the latter's fortress. The Wasp has been captured for... um... some reason or other, but Magneto can't release her because the weather outside is horrid and they don't have brollies on Battleworld, so he suggests they have a chat, which very quickly leads to him leaping on her for a snog, and her deciding to say "sod it" and go along with it. The whole thing reads like it was written by a 13 year old who has never kissed anybody but has definitely seen it a lot in movies, which I guess is pretty much the target audience for the series. That doesn't make it any less awful though!

The weather's also horrible for the Avengers and Fanastic Four over in their own base, and there's a couple of pages of them talking about it. Thor does get to go out and smash up a boulder that was threatening to hit them, but the whole thing feels like its making up time. We're only three issues into the series, and we've already got about a third of the comic filled with people looking out of the windows talking about the weather! Spider-man is as bored with all of this as I am, so goes out for an explore. On his travels he overhears the X-Men talking to each other in a terrifyingly stiff version of Chris Claremont dialogue where everybody speaks either as if every single word is a portentious quote from the Bible, or they're being transcribed by a music journalist from the 1990s who thinks it's funny to mock regional accents. Professor X detects Spider-man's presence and then there's a Big Fight where the X-Men are absolutely desperate to stop him getting away, although why this is I have no idea. Spidey rushes off to find Mr Fantastic to tell him something incredibly important, but then Professor X wipes his mind before he can tell anybody... what exactly? As far as I can tell he didn't hear anything even vaguely controversial, so the whole thing is massively stupid - well done, teenage me, you were if anything too polite about how terrible this stinker of a comic is!

Doctor Doom finally turns up on - of course - a viewing screen, where he's just offered Magento an alliance but been turned down. We then see Doom in his own base making plans for "Victory". He's found some alien machinery which he's managed to get working, and is using it to create two new super-villains: Titania and Volcana. Doom takes them to meet the rest of his gang where, once again, he introduces everybody to each other, conveniently lined up in order. Jim Shooter immediately gets down to some more romance, introducing Titania (who is "like a Titan") to Absorbing Man and Volcana (who is like a Volcano) to Molecule Man. Titania and Absorbing Man start off their relationship by nearly having a fight, while Volcana and Molecule Man stand at the window talking about Therapy, sensitivity, and how cool Doctor Doom is. Back at the superheroes' base Thor goes to chat to Enchantress, who suggests they pop to another dimension for their talk. Is that allowed? I thought they were all trapped on Battleworld? However, before we can find out how that works, the rain finally ends just in time for Doom and the baddies to launch an attack. They ram into the base with their ship and then follow Doom's cunning plan: to mess stuff up. They're there to rescue the supervillains who were captured last time around, and they manage this quite successfully by catching the superheroes off guard. There are a couple of skirmishes and then all of a sudden that's that, with Doctor Doom and Molecule Man summing the battle up almost as if they were two young boys playing with action figures or a role-playing game. Secret Wars action figures and Role Playing games were very much available! And with that, thankfully, we're at the end of this issue, but don't worry, there's plenty more of this sort of thing to come next time!

posted 15/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Masque of Doom!
As has been mentioned many many times over the past few years, this blog is meant to be part of the research for my PhD, which is using Doctor Doom as a case study for an empirical method of assessing transmedia character cohesion. This involves analysing the frequency of different aspects of a character, such as their appearance, motivations, dialogue, other characters and so on, and one of the main characteristics of Doctor Doom turns out to be (not surprisingly) his mask. In the sample I've selected for my analysis his mask appears in every single text, almost always with square eye holes, triangluar nose, a grilled mouth and rivets, but today's comic is the only example I've come across so far where the mask appears without Doctor Doom himself!

Before we get into the story itself, it's worth taking a look at the cover which, excitingly for the time, was an Actual Photograph that had been manipulated to add eye beams. This sort of thing would become much more popular in the following decade, when comics went crazy and/or rubbish (depending on your point of view) with all sorts of experiments with covers as publishers tried to sell multiple copies of the same issue to "collectors". This one looks pretty good, but its very existence is the harbinger of much daftness to come - thankfully though, most if it takes place after the period for this blog!

I'd also like to make a quick mention of the title, which uses the unusual "masque" spelling here because, I assume, it just sounds fancy. It's not the first time this spelling has been used - way back in the (brilliant) Astonishing Tales #8 Gerry Conway promised a story called "Deathmasque" in the next issue, and when that ended up not featuring Doctor Doom he eventually used an altered version for the story "Doomsmasque" in Sub-Mariner #47. It looks like he was quite pleased with this spelling, as he took the time to explain what it meant to readers: A masquerade is also a sort of party, which does not fit the start of the story at all, as we pick up from the previous issue which saw Reed Richards and various other Marvel physicians unable to help as Sue had a miscarriage. At the time this felt very Adult and Serious (another harbinger of the then-future of superhero comics) but now, quite a few decades older, I'm not so sure. I've never subscribed to the view that superhero comics should be "escapist", but there's something about discussing a miscarriage while Hulk fights Doctor Octopus on the other side of the room that doesn't feel quite right. She-Hulk also feels uncomfortable about the whole thing, so she and Johnny head back to the Baxter Building, with her giving him (and FF readers who've not read her solo series) a quick recap of her origin story. When they arrive Johnny shows her a Big Red Button which cuts off all signals into the building which, I'm sure, will not have any further place in the story. They then go for a tour round the building, including the room where they store all the most dangerous and mysterious artefacts they've uncovered during their adventures. This includes the mask - or masque - of Doctor Doom which was picked up after his death at the hands of Terrax in Fantastic Four #260. There's a quick update on the ongoing subplot of Reed and Sue's attempt to have a secret identity, with a nosy neighbour poking round their empty house in Connecticut, and then it's back to the Baxter Building where all the alarms are going off. Johnny and She-Hulk investigate, only to find that - surprise surprise - it's not a "mystery assailant", but Doom's mask! It gives them one heck of a going over, knocking the Human Torch down and chucking She-Hulk out of the building, and it's only when Mr Fantastic turns up that it's finally defeated. Reed works out that this attack is too complex to have been pre-programmed into the mask and so it must be receiving a remote signal somewhere. He fixes this problem by hitting that Big Red Button we saw earlier. Well, who could have guessed that that would come in handy so soon? And that's pretty much it for the story, with the only item of business that remains being for Reed to explain to the others how it all worked, and also deliver the revelation that maybe, just maybe, this is an indication that Doom isn't quite as dead as they all thought! What the?!? But I thought this whole blog was about to end!

It's not a classic episode of Byrne's run on the series by any means, but it is a fairly typical example of the way he liked to juggle multiple storylines in a soap opera style, not dissimilar to the way that Lee and Kirby's classic run used to. It's also nice to get to the She-Hulk era too, which is a period of the Fantastic Four that I have a great deal of fondness for, and led on to the very enjoyable (if brief) solo series a little while later. It's basically been a fun story to re-read, which is a lot more than can be said for what's coming next as we finally, very reluctantly, dive back into Secret Wars!

posted 13/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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That night...
Over the course of this blog I have often railed against Marvel's attempt at humour comics like "Not Brand Ecch" or "Fantastic Four Roasts", but lo and behold - today we're looking at a Marvel comic that is Actually Funny!

Not only that, but it looks amazing too, as it's drawn by Barry Windsor Smith. I've not always been entirely persuaded by his art in other comics of the time, as the characters always look a bit stuff and poised, but goodness me he draws a lovely Thing here! This is another of those issues of Marvel Fanfare that turned up in my local comic shop at a bargain price because it was water damaged. I remember buying it at the time and findiing it all a bit lightweight and pointless, but re-reading it now I was surprised by how charming and genuinely amusing it is, in a story which sees The Thing gently falling for a long string of practical jokes which the Human Torch has set up the night before. That's all that happens really, but it features some moments with real charm and character insight, such as when The Thing looks in the mirror first thing in the morning and sees what appears to be stubble. There's also a great bit where he slips on a mass of toy trucks and is propelled along a corridor, bursting through images of the worst people imaginable. This starts with, of course, Doctor Doom. That's the only appearance of Doom in this story, but I don't really mind when it's part of something so enjoyable. It does at least make the point that Doom can't be behind these pranks because he has no sense of humour (he definitely doesn't) or toy cars (I have no data to back this up). The Thing continues on his ride along the corridor, bursting through an image of The Super Skrull and then finally cracking he sees his worst nemesis of all. I thought it was funny anyway! Eventually we discover that Johnny did all of this for April Fool's Day, except, Ben calculates, Johnny has got the dates wrong - April Fool's Day is tomorrow. If this was the end of the story it would be a bit disappointing, but Windsor Smith then gives us an epilogue where Ben gets a whole bunch of his own pranks ready for the next day, which is April Fools Day proper. In the final panel he settles down to relax with a cigar... the same exploding gag cigar that we saw Johnny setting up on the very first page. I love the fact that the payoff is done so subtly, through the wordplay of Ben's final statement and the lettering in the bottom of the picture. All in all it's a glorious piece of work, and a real shame that Barry Windsor Smith didn't do much more of this sort of thing!

posted 8/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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In All The Gathering Gloom
Welcome back for what I think (and sort of hope!) is going to be the final year for the Marvel Age Doom blog... at least as far as bi-weekly reviews of texts goes anyway.

We kick off with a slight change to the previously advertised programme. Last time I said we'd be starting the year with a look at the main Secret Wars series, but after that cliffhanger on Battleworld I felt that we just had to carry on with "The Thing" before we did anything else. Also, it's too soon in the year to face actually reading more of "Secret Wars" yet!

So, if you can cast your mind back you'll recall that we left Ben Grimm, Tarianna and Hanrak as they stumbled into what looked like Doctor Doom's castle. As they get closer we find out that it's actually a town populated by Tarianna's people, who get a detailed description from her of what happened last time. They're a bit dubious about Ben being a super warrior, but they decided to take her word for it. Once that's done we get a further recap of the history of the town and the people who live there, which Ben later self-monologues is "like something out of a role playin' game." I like the way that Byrne, Wilson and Sinnott play with this idea that something's not quite right here, making everything look deliberately wonky and odd, with Latveria mixed up with people from "a Hagar the Horrible Convention" and a convoluted backstory that, we are told, cannot be true because Battleworld has only actually existed for a few weeks.

The Thing decides to investigate, heading into The Mysterious Keep at the centre of the town. Tarianna follows, and then an ashamed and belittled Hanrak follows her in turn, and they end up inside A Spooky Castle. There's a brief Enigmatic Interlude with something happening on the other side of Battleworld, which I'm sure will pop up in a later part of this series, and then we're back to find that Hanrak has captured Tarianna and, for some reason, decided to make her love him again by tying her to a pillar. It takes all sorts I suppose. Ben Grimm is elsewhere, battling against Mystic Illusions and suchlike until he is forced to transform into The Actual Thing again. The idea that he doesn't like being The Thing, but does it anyway, is The Big Gimmick for this version of the series. It seems a bit half-hearted to me - there don't appear to be any consequences to the transformation, except for the fact that it reminds him of when he couldn't change back, but now that he can it doesn't feel like such a big deal, especially when it's a great way of getting out of trouble. This time the transformation allows him to stand up to the Mystic Illusions, fight his way through to the centre of the castle, and find - Doctor Doom! Of course, this isn't Doctor Doom, it's another Mystic Illusion, which seems to be guarding some sort of machinery box. The Thing smashes it, and then the castle vanishes, along with the village and all of the people in it, except for Tarianna. All that's left is for The Thing to give a rapidly cobbled together explanation for the entirety of the past two issues, which seems to be that Doctor Doom had set the whole thing up as a "contingency plan" while he was there, and ... er... left it behind when Secret Wars ended. It all feels like a massive cop-out, especially when the final panel asks the obvious question "so how come Tarianna is still here?" The obvious answer is "because this series needs another character to wander around with The Thing", but that doesn't make it feel any less like a crappy ending for what's been an at least lovely *looking* couple of comics.

We'll have more very good looking comics next time, as we take a look at Barry Windsor-Smith's version of Doom, over in Marvel Fanfare!

posted 6/1/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett